History is popularly selected as an optional subject by IAS applicants because it coincides with the general studies paper I to a great extent as well as the preparation for mains. It is therefore easier for candidates to prepare their preparation time and schedule by selecting this subject. The syllabus, however, is vast and requires a thorough analysis and effort to be made.

On the plus side, it is very fact-based, and if you are able to memorize it well, history is a very significant topic and helps to score the most of the cut-off marks on its own. Almost 40% of the history of the optional syllabus is similar to the General Studies Syllabus, making planning and memorization much easier.

How History as Optional Paper Gives You an Edge over Other Subjects

There are multiple reasons why it is beneficial to choose history as your optional subjects in your mains.

  • The topic is fact-based and simple, and there are no ideas or concepts to be grasped in order to address the questions.
  • The details and dates are defined in history and hence it is a very consistent syllabus that never changes, allowing the applicant a longer time to prepare without worrying that the date will be changed in a few months or years like current affairs.
  • Most of the questions come from the history in the preliminary exam. There are approximately 18-20 problems for which there are 36-40 points.
  • In general studies paper 1,  history accounts for over 50% of marks! If you prepare it well you may end up scoring high.

History Optional Syllabus for Paper 1

Paper 1 focuses on early ancient history and covers up to the 18th century. The following listed are the topics:

  • Sources (Archaeological sources, literary sources, foreign accounts)
  • Pre-history & Proto- history( hunting, gathering, starting of agriculture)
  • Indus valley civilization( important dates, features, origins)
  • Megalithic culture ( farming culture, pottery industry, settlements)
  • Mahajanapadas period (Jainism & Buddhism, forming of states, economic growth)
  • Mauryan Empire ( Beginning of empire, religion)
  • Post- Mauryan Empire ( growing of urban centers, art, culture)
  • Guptas, Vakatakas, and Vardhanas (Status of women, a decline of urbanization, education)
  • Early medieval India( Cholas, political development)
  • 750-1200 (Islam and its arrival, growth of Tamil literature)
  • 13th century ( Starting of Delhi sultanate)
  • 14th century ( The Khalji revolution)
  • Society, economy, and culture in the 13th and 14th century
  • 15th an early 16th century
  • Akbar
  • 17th century Mughal Empire
  • 18th century( conquests, Rajput policy)

History Optional Syllabus for Paper 2

The UPSC IAS History Optional Paper 2 syllabus covers Modern Indian History (British rule, freedom movement, and post-independence India) and World History.

Following below are the topics:

  • European penetration in India

  • British expansion in India

  • Social-cultural developments

  • The economic impact of British colonial

  • Socio- religious reform movements ( Sati, widow remarriage, child marriage)

  • Rebellion against the British raj

  • Rise of Gandhi

  • Constitutional development of India from 1858-1935

  • Muslim league, separatism, Nehru’s foreign policies,

  • Caste and religion after 1947

  • Economic development after 1947

  • Modern concepts of politics

  • Industrialization

  • Division of states based on language

  • Impacts of the World Wars on India

  • Unification of Europe

  • The disintegration of the Soviet Union

How to Plan for History Optional Paper?

As you can see, the syllabus is enormous and all that you prepare for Prelims and GS is included, but in a more elaborate way. You should find and go through the previous year question paper. Thus, it can be said that if you start the optional preparation right before the prelims, it will help you efficiently cover the GS, Prelims, and Optional Papers syllabus.

Here are some helpful tips:

Memorizing Dates

Dates are essential, and they may be the most confusing. Therefore, when you study one section or theme, make a short note of the dates and events at the same time. You can also make a timeline of important dates at the end.   These can be used later for revision right before the test. If your facts are right, it will not be very difficult to shape a long response in the flow of writing.

Sticking to One Topic

When you pick up one specific topic, complete it thoroughly before you switch to the next to avoid timeline confusion. For example, if you’re studying ancient historical events, commit the entire 12-hour week to this subject until you finish it completely before you move on to medieval events.

Choosing Books

Stick to some of the best reference books while you’re preparing for IAS Optional. NCERT is the best choice to give you a simple understanding of the chronology of Indian history from ancient times to post-Independence India. Some good examples of reference books are Mastering Modern World History -Norman Lowe, A History of ancient and early medieval India– Upinder Singh, India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra.

Also Read: How to Prepare for Indian History for UPSC 


History is a topic that can be tedious for some aspirants, and just cramming the topic wouldn’t help. After all, it was Chitra’s hard work and dedication that bagged the Rank 20th. She says- “In History optional, I scored 240 in 2016, and this year [2018] I improved my score to 300 by practicing the map section more where I was lacking. She grabbed this place in her sixth attempt and that just goes to show that you need to keep going and not give up.

Also Read: A Detailed Guide to Choosing the Best Optional Subject for UPSC

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UPSC History Optional Question Paper: Decent Success Rate Among IAS Candidates
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UPSC History Optional Question Paper: Decent Success Rate Among IAS Candidates
What’s stopping you from choosing History as the optional subject for UPSC? Find out what all benefits there are for choosing history. Syllabus for both papers included.
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UPSC Pathshala
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